FA Cup quarter-final draw – Leicester to face Chelsea, Man Utd draw Brighton

No more walk-on girls escorting dart players at games

Practice to end, starting this weekend, after pressure from broadcasters and fans

Darts game






The Professional Darts Corporation said it regularly reviews all aspects of its events.
Photograph: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

Darts players will no longer be accompanied at tournaments by “walk-on girls” after pressure from broadcasters and fans.

The practice of models escorting male players on to the stage will cease, starting with this weekend’s Masters tournament in Milton Keynes.

“We regularly review all aspects of our events and this move has been made following feedback from our host broadcasters,” said a Professional Darts Corporation spokesperson.

ITV said it was consulted about the change. “We fully endorse this move,” a spokesman said.

The change was predicted last year by world No 1 and two-time world champion Michael van Gerwen, who said the days of walk-on girls were numbered.

However, more than 6,000 fans have signed a petition calling for their return.

The Women’s Sports Trust, which champions women in sport, supported the move and called on other sports to take notice.

It tweeted:

Women's Sport Trust
(@WomenSportTrust)

We applaud the Professional Darts Corporation moving with the times and deciding to no longer use walk-on-girls. Motor Racing, Boxing and Cycling....your move. https://t.co/ZHgpBduTGR

January 27, 2018

Roger Federer’s pedigree can gain entry to select grand slam club

Marin Cilic must turn up the power in the Australian Open to avoid a repeat of last year’s Wimbledon final and deny the Swiss an historic triumph

Roger Federer can win his 20th grand slam by beating Marin Cilic in the Australian Open men’s final in Melbourne






Roger Federer can win his 20th grand slam by beating Marin Cilic in the Australian Open men’s final in Melbourne.
Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

As much as the men’s final on Sunday is supposed to be an equal contest between the two best players left upright and healthy after six matches, Roger Federer always stands tallest in his sport and Marin Cilic, even looking down from 6ft 6in, knows it.

He was reminded of the disparity between them at Wimbledon last year, when Federer toyed with him, ruthlessly exploiting his poor movement on blistered feet to win the final in an hour and 41 minutes.

If, as expected, Federer’s pedigree proves too much for Cilic’s power, the history will be all his: a 20th major, four more than any man, two behind Steffi Graf, three behind Serena Williams and within four of Margaret Court. It would be his sixth Australian title, to move alongside Novak Djokovic and Roy Emerson.

By winning, Federer, the oldest finalist here since Ken Rosewall, 37, and Mal Anderson, 36, shared the stage 46 years ago, would strike another elegant blow for his generation, a third slam title since he turned 35. He would also keep safe the dominance that he and Rafael Nadal have rebuilt after sharing last year’s majors between them. Previously, they have shut out the field in sequences of 11, between 2005 and 2007, six in 2008 and 2009, and four in 2010.

Federer, naturally, expresses respect for Cilic, and even warmth, revealing they played together when they learned they were staying nearby on holidays in the Maldives in late November. But it will be all business on Sunday – and the defending champion is aware he can take no liberties with an opponent who has the game to blow anyone off court. He has done it to Federer once in eight matches, mind: in three sets in the US Open semi-finals in 2014.

“He’s very professional,” Federer said. “He’s always very much the same, regardless of whether he wins or loses. I like that attitude. He’s a winner. You can see it in the way he behaves on the court. He’s there to win and not just to be there. Sometimes you see other players and you feel like they’re happy to have made the quarters. He strives for more.

“I just hope I’m going to have a good start to the match. I hope I can mix up my game, start serving well from the get-go, not get into too much trouble early. And I hope I can read his serve.”

The serve is where this match will be won and lost – like nearly every tennis match, perhaps, but particularly so for opponents who have been in sizzling form with ball in hand throughout the tournament. There has been little between them in the key statistics.

Cilic is tied for eighth in unreturned serves with 41% (254 of 624). Federer is not far behind him in a group of four in 19th place with 37% (174/468). Cilic, though, has had considerably more free points with 107 aces – 19 behind the awesome Ivo Karlovic – to Federer’s 71, which is still good enough to put him in sixth place on the board. If it comes to sheer pace, Cilic also has the edge, having struck a high 133.6mph – 15th fastest of the fortnight – while Federer has cranked it up to 128mph.

It is winning the point that matters and again Cilic edges it with 335 from 408 to Federer’s 243 from 296. Both, though, are at 82%. It is just that Cilic has played way more service games in the 17 hours and three minutes he has spent on court in reaching the final.

Federer has had one of the easiest runs of his career. From beating Aljaz Bedene for the loss of 10 games in the first round through to seeing Hyeon Chung quit with blistered feet seven games into the second set of their semi-final on Friday night, Federer has spent a mere 10 hours and 50 minutes on court. That is just short of an hour more than his stroll of nine hours and 56 minutes at Wimbledon last summer.

The final was perhaps his easiest match of that tournament. Like Chung here, the Croat discovered that going into a match against Federer with tender or sore feet is not a good idea, and the Swiss had Cilic twisting and turning so much on his already blistered feet at Wimbledon that he was near tears at the end of their disappointing three-setter. It is unlikely he will make that mistake again.

All eyes on the Australian Open – a photo essay

Fans arrive on day 1 of the Australian Open in Melbourne.



Almost 750,000 spectators will flood into Melbourne Park over the course of the Australian Open to watch one of the showpiece events in the tennis calendar. It’s been the home of Australian tennis since 1988, when the facilities were purpose-built to replace those at Kooyong.

Last year spectators were treated to an unforgettable men’s final when Roger Federer defeated his old rival Rafael Nadal in five sets to claim a fairytale 18th grand slam title. This year the men’s and women’s draws have been beset by injuries and withdrawals – with Andy Murray and Serena Williams among those unable to play in the singles competitions – making it one of the most open and unpredictable slams in recent years.

Photos outside the venue on day one.



A ticket to the tournament for day one.



Tennis fans take selfies at the entrance.



Australian kids singing ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie’ as they enter Melbourne Park.



There are 40 tennis courts at Melbourne Park, three of them arenas with retractable roofs. But some of the most intriguing matches are played by lesser-known players in front of sparse crowds on the outer and show courts. The courts back onto one another in such proximity that the thwack of balls from neighbouring matches is as audible as the calls of the line judges.

A general view of the action on Court 3 on day one.



A view looking over the outer courts.



A player on the outer courts hits a backhand return.



Officials change the nets.



A player winces from getting sweat in his eyes.



Doubles action on an outer court.



Laura Robson in the women’s doubles with Coco Vandeweghe.



Denis Istomin reacts to a bad shot.



A sleepy ballkid.



A player with sport bandages on her shoulder.



Temperatures in Melbourne soared to 40C on Thursday and Friday, leading to complaints from players including Novak Djokovic who said it was “right at the limit” of being dangerous and Gaël Monfils who said he was “dying on the court for 40 minutes”. The Australian Open organisers didn’t enforce the heat rule which states that matches must be halted or roofs closed when the mercury hits 40C ambient temperature and the wet-bulb reading gets above 32.5C. Spectators were at least able to cool off in front of huge mist machines and watch the matches from the comfort of deck chairs.

Spectators in Garden Square watching the action on a big screen.



A young fan enjoys the mist machine on a boiling hot day.



Raking shadows and pockets of light gave professional photographers plenty to play with, especially when viewing the action from the concourses and “catwalks” overlooking Rod Laver Arena and Margaret Court Arena. The late afternoon sunlight also bled through the outer courts casting distinctive patterns across Melbourne Park’s blue surfaces.

Novak Djokovic returns a shot.



A player crouches down in the afternoon sunlight during a doubles match.



Gael Monfils stretches for a return against Novak Djokovic.



Petra Kvitova leaps awkwardly.



In the absence of Andy Murray, Britain’s Kyle Edmund has shone. After defeating the big-serving 11th seed, Kevin Anderson, in round one and Denis Istomin in round two, Edmund battled back from injury to win a five-set thriller against Nikoloz Basilashvili in round three.

Kyle Edmund in action in the early rounds.



Kyle Edmund in action in the early rounds.



Kyle Edmund celebrates his third round win over Nikoloz Basilashvili.



The two biggest names in the men’s singles competition, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, progressed through the opening two rounds unscathed. Nadal was imperious in his first round drubbing of Victor Estrella Burgos, against whom he dropped only three games. At one stage a spectator called out: ‘Give him a chance, Rafa’. The pair shared a warm post-match embrace at the net. Meanwhile, Federer made one teenager’s night when he tossed his black bandana to him after beating Aljaz Bedene in straight sets. The most uncomfortable the reigning champion looked all night was in a post-match interview with comedian Will Ferrell who, in character as Ron Burgundy, described the Swiss as a “silky gazelle” and asked if he maintained his health by only eating wombat meat.

Rafael Nadal serves on day one.



Rafael Nadal consoles Victor Estrella Burgos.



Roger Federer on day two against Aljaz Bedene.



A fan who caught Roger Federer’s bandana.



Will Ferrell interviews Roger Federer.



Home favourite Nick Kyrgios built on his recent title win in Brisbane and, despite firing abuse at the crowd and the umpire, showed signs he may yet make the most of his mercurial talent at a major. He earned and later won a third round clash with his childhood idol Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who beat Canadian prodigy Denis Shapovalov in round two. Elsewhere, third seed Grigor Dimitrov saw off Andrey Rublev, much to the delight of his Bulgarian compatriots in the stands, and six-times Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic overcame Gaël Monfils in the second round to keep his tournament alive. Monfils took the first set before blistering heat saw him wilt.

Nick Kyrgios during a change of ends at Hisense Arena on day 1.



Denis Shapovalov fires a shot against Jo Wilfried Tsonga.



Denis Shapovalov serves against Jo Wilfried Tsonga.



Jo Wilfried Tsonga celebrates beating Denis Shapovalov.



Bulgarian fans supporting Grigor Dimitrov on day five.



Water sprays up off the head of Gael Monfils on day four.



Novak Djokovic plays a forehand shot.



Gael Monfils looking exhausted by the heat.



Novak Djokovic signs autographs for the crowd.



In the women’s singles competition there were early shocks: Venus Williams, Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta were all dispatched, Kvitova going home in tears. Elsewhere, Maria Sharapova, appearing in her first Aussie Open since a drugs ban, said the experience of being back at the venue where she won the tournament in 2008 gave her “shivers”. She was knocked out in the next round. Australian Ashleigh Barty impressed as the sun set over Rod Laver Arena but also fell at the third hurdle, while compatriot Sam Stosur blew her concentration and a second set advantage as she lost to Monica Puig in round one. Seemingly the only thing that’s certain in the women’s draw this year is that when the final ball is hit on Saturday night a new champion will be crowned.

Petra Kvitova walks off in tears after losing to Andrea Petkovic.



Maria Sharapova against Anastasija Sevastova on day two.



Ashleigh Barty v Camila Giorgi on Rod Laver Arena.



Sam Stosur tries to concentrate.



Line call: in our out at the Australian Open.



Sucker punch: small town boxing in rural America is going mainstream – but who benefits?

Rough N Rowdy offers local hopefuls, most with limited skills and little training, the chance to win $1,000 and make a name for themselves in the boxing ring. The event is being broadcast by Barstool Sports, whose CEO, Dave Portnoy, refers to boxers taking part as 'rednecks' 

Premiership’s faltering form in Europe could spell trouble for England | Robert Kitson

Amid all the myriad European pool permutations and head-scratching arithmetic it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture out on the wintry fields. This has been a Champions Cup season of vivid, gripping contrasts in which the Pro14 sides are teaching their wealthy English and French league counterparts an increasing lesson in humility.

Even if the Premiership sides, in particular, stage a last-gasp resurrection they are already scrabbling for quarter-final crumbs. It could be that England has only one representative – or possibly none – in a last eight that could contain five Pro14 sides. Two years ago there were five Premiership quarter‑finalists and none at all from the then Pro12. The pendulum has swung.

While Exeter and Saracens can still secure an away quarter-final if they win their final pool fixtures against Glasgow and Northampton respectively, they are battling a continental tide that has swept away Saints, Harlequins and Leicester.

Barring a late reprieve, Bath and Wasps are probably heading the same way. If the English decline is entirely a coincidence it is a striking one.

Anyone who watched the Scarlets paint the Recreation Ground red on Friday night will certainly suspect otherwise. Both with ball in hand and around the breakdown, the Welsh region made Bath – a Premiership top-six side, albeit reliably inconsistent – look plodding and mediocre. At scrum‑half Gareth Davies looked every inch a top-class nine, the Irish lock Tadhg Beirne and his second-row partner David Bulbring were colossal and Rhys Patchell and Hadleigh Parkes gave the national selectors a monumental nudge.

The sureness of the handling, the accuracy of the passing and offloading, the support running and defensive steel were also a huge tribute to the coaching of Wayne Pivac, Stephen Jones and Byron Hayward, all of whom must be rising up the queue to take control of Wales when Warren Gatland and his current team step aside. If Gatland’s squad perform half as fluently as the elusive Scarlets in the upcoming Six Nations they will generate a whole lot of love.

It would also further query the received wisdom that European form and Six Nations success are two different things. That cosy assumption is beginning to feel outdated; how can, say, Ireland’s national management be anything other than upbeat when their three competing provinces are so competitive in the Champions Cup and Leinster are positively rampant? Is it entirely a fluke England have won the last two Six Nations titles in the same years that Saracens have scooped successive European crowns?

Which begs the next big question: might the Premiership’s faltering form in Europe and the rising confidence of the Pro14’s leading lights spell trouble for England and Eddie Jones over the next two months? Even if Billy Vunipola recovers swiftly from his fractured forearm, Jones’s side are going to encounter a revitalised bunch of opponents heartened by what they have seen in Europe of late. Even the Europe-conquering Saracens have not won in Wales on their last two visits, while the only English clubs to score a cross-border win away in this season’s Champions Cup have been Exeter in Montpellier and Bath in a deluge in Llanelli.

Munster’s Irish scrum half Conor Murray, right



Munster’s Conor Murray (right) has played in only five Pro14 games this season. Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images

Privately, leading Premiership coaches continue to argue the relentless nature of their league exacts a mental toll that makes it harder for their teams to get up consistently even for big Europe dates. One illustration: Munster’s outstanding Lions scrum-half Conor Murray has played only five Pro14 games this season while his English counterpart Ben Youngs has already started twice as many Premiership fixtures for Leicester.

The all-consuming nature of England’s training camps, as Jones seeks to drive his squad ever onwards, has also clearly made it tough for certain players to satisfy two masters, with the threat of relegation a constricting factor for some. There is a big difference between being battle-hardened and overplayed, and too many English players still operate on the wrong side of that line.

At the same time, though, there is no disputing the increasing quality of the coaching in the Pro14. Pivac, Jones, Dave Rennie, Stuart Lancaster, Rassie Erasmus, Johann van Graan, Bernard Jackman, Richard Cockerill: all have coached in more than one country and their desire to outwit each other is raising standards across the board.

All of which leaves the Premiership trying to polish something potentially rather nasty, despite Northampton’s brave win against an injury-wracked Clermont and Harlequins’ late showstopper against Wasps. Dai Young’s side will need a bonus-point victory – and deny Ulster a losing bonus point – in Coventry next Sunday to remain mathematically afloat, while Bath’s fate is in others’ hands, even if they win big in Italy against Benetton on Saturday.

Exeter may well also require a bonus-point success in Glasgow, even if their six-try demolition of the French league leaders Montpellier on Saturday again underlined their quality in adversity.

Saracens, meanwhile, could still be stranded even if they conclude with another points landslide against their recent whipping boys Northampton. An Ospreys win in Clermont will slam the door whatever happens.

In that event the English will be staring at their leanest season in Europe since 2011-12, when Saracens were the only Premiership representatives in the last eight and ended up losing 22-3 at home to Clermont. The only previous time England have failed to supply a single quarter-finalist was in 1999, the year they boycotted the competition entirely. John Pullin’s famous line after England’s defeat by Ireland in Dublin in 1973 – “We may not be much good but at least we turn up” – may soon have to be revisited.

Tottenham outclass uninspired Everton as Harry Kane reaches new milestone

While Cenk Tosun offered flashes of promise on his Everton debut, in the end he was powerless to stop himself from becoming the latest striker to be left in the shade by Harry Kane. Tosun’s muscular cameo was an isolated bright spot for Sam Allardyce, who was shocked by his team’s miserable capitulation in the second half, but a resigned chuckle was the best Everton’s manager could muster after being asked about Kane’s poaching masterclass. “He’s very good,” Allardyce said.

That was an understatement. Kane ended 2017 with the numbers to show he is the most potent attacker in Europe and he shattered another statistic in this thumping victory for Mauricio Pochettino’s side, scoring twice to break Teddy Sheringham’s record of 97 Premier League goals for Tottenham.

Kane has a long way to go to surpass Jimmy Greaves as the club’s all-time leading scorer with 266 goals but worryingly for opposition defences, he has no intention of slowing down after becoming the first player in the top division to reach 20 goals this season. “It’s something I’m very proud of but it’s on to the next one,” he said. “We’ve got to keep going.”

That killer mentality explains why the 24-year-old has succeeded in transforming himself into one of the world’s elite players and Pochettino was effusive in his praise when he was asked if Kane can break Andy Cole and Alan Shearer’s joint record of 34 goals in a single Premier League season. “It is a lot of numbers,” Tottenham’s manager said. “He can do everything. He has the potential to achieve what he wants. He is always thinking and trying to improve.”

Kane was not without assistance in a romp that moved Tottenham closer to Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United in the fight to qualify for the Champions League. Son Heung-min also sparkled, creating Kane’s first with an electric burst two minutes after half-time, and the South Korean’s opener in the first half was also a significant moment, allowing him to emulate Jermain Defoe by becoming the second Tottenham player to score in five consecutive home games in the Premier League.

The indignities for Everton piled high. Allardyce accepted some culpability for his part in this chastening defeat, admitting he picked too many offensive players, but he was more troubled by his team’s collapse after a sprightly offering in the first half.

“The gulf was massive,” Allardyce said. “It was a shock. I saw some of the good sides last week against Liverpool and I saw some of the worst sides today. It was worrying how our performance became so bad in such a short space of time. I didn’t expect to see it and I have to address it as quickly as possible.”

Everton could not be accused of a lack of ambition during the early stages. Failing to react after selling Romelu Lukaku last summer has been a major factor in their muddled campaign but the arrival of Tosun from Besiktas has infused them with fresh hope. The £25m forward was prolific for his former club and Everton could take encouragement from his speed and movement, which troubled Davinson Sánchez at times. “With better service hopefully he’ll do what he did for Besiktas,” Allardyce said.

Tosun created an early chance for Wayne Rooney after holding the ball up well and his near-post flick from Gylfi Sigurdsson’s corner almost led to Everton taking a shock lead. However, Rooney was just offside as he headed past Hugo Lloris from close range and that scare stung Tottenham into action.

Everton were too open down their left side, with Sigurdsson struggling to track Serge Aurier’s raids, and Christian Eriksen took note of that weakness, finding the buccaneering right-back with a superb, raking pass. Aurier’s delivery can be patchy but here he drove a low centre into the middle, enabling Son to take advantage of poor marking by tapping past Jordan Pickford.

“We have talked about Son’s performances for four months,” Pochettino said. “He is more mature than last season.” In the 47th minute Son demonstrated his dribbling ability by twirling away from Jonjoe Kenny, rendering the inexperienced right-back an irrelevance as the move unfolded. Mason Holgate was unable to stop him from fizzing the ball into the middle, where Kane was waiting.

Allardyce felt that Kane was offside but Everton were brutally exposed. Out of the FA Cup and winless in the league since 18 December, their season is drifting aimlessly towards an unsatisfactory conclusion, and Kane had already scored his second – guiding home Eric Dier’s low centre – by the time Tosun made way for Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the 62nd minute.

Rooney’s late booking for an ugly chop on Jan Vertonghen encapsulated Everton’s frustration and Tottenham finished with a stunning fourth goal, Dele Alli’s lovely backheel teeing up Eriksen for an emphatic shot past Pickford. “Maybe I’ll go back to being a bit more boring,” Allardyce said. Tottenham have no such worries.